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Intriguing Top Pairing Option for Tampa Bay Lightning Next Season

Tampa Bay Lightning Positives

Despite spending less than 500 minutes together over the past three seasons at 5v5, two all-star defenders with the Tampa Bay Lightning may formulate an elite pairing with the new defensive core for next season. With Ryan McDonagh back in town for the Bolts, the Lightning defence already made massive strides on paper compared to the 2023-24 season. McDonagh should unite with his old partner, Erik Cernak, to recreate one of the NHL’s best shutdown defensive duos. With the defensive studs paired, there is an open door of possibilities on the blue line for Tampa next year. One that may scratch the surface is Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev together full-time.

Can a Hedman-Sergachev Pairing Impact the Lightning in 2024-25?

Hedman and Sergachev are star defencemen in the National Hockey League. The Swedish blue liner eclipsed the 1,000-game plateau last season with Lightning. In 1052 career games, Hedman has 156 goals and 572 assists for 728 points. Furthermore, the veteran also has a prestigious trophy case: two Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and a James Norris Memorial Trophy. On the other hand, Sergachev was acquired in a swap for former third-overall selection Jonathan Drouin seven years ago. Sergachev developed into a skilled, elite defenceman under Head Coach Jon Cooper’s wing. The Russian blue liner has a combined 48 goals and 209 assists for 257 points in 475 career games. Moreover, he has two Stanley Cup rings under his belt.

Hedman and Sergachev never spent much time together on the blue line for Tampa, as both players are left-shot defenders. However, could this change for the 2024-25 season? Also, what would the rest of the Lightning backend look like on paper?

Results in Short Period Together

Using NaturalStatTrick’s line tool, we can see how Hedman and Sergachev performed together in possession metrics. Furthermore, we can see how the two performed isolated from one another over the past three seasons (2021-24). In roughly 414 minutes on the ice together, Hedman and Sergachev shockingly drive play well. Despite these two defenders being infamous for their defensive abilities, the pairing controlled 56.90% of the on-ice expected goal share at 5v5. Furthermore, the pairing dominated with a 56.87% high danger shot attempt for percentage. In a decent sample size, the numbers tell a story of these two possibly working together as a top pairing for the Lightning next season.

While both defenders typically play on their strong side, the Lightning can rely on one-timers in the offensive zone more frequently. Pair this duo on the ice with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, and Cooper may find magic with a 2-3 high offensive zone set-up, identical to a power play. There are unlimited possibilities for pairing the two best defencemen on the roster together. While both players aren’t stellar defensively, one can anticipate their offensive skill will help keep them out of the defensive end, where the best defence is offence for Hedman and Sergachev.

How the Defence Core Shakes Up

With the top four set in stone, the Lightning has options for the bottom-pairing on defence. Some candidates include Darren Raddysh, Nicklaus Perbix, Emil Martinsen Lilleberg, and Maxwell Crozier. All four blue liners have one thing in common. They all originated from the American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. With a log jam on the right side, the Lightning may decide to move on from one or two of these defencemen this summer. However, if the Hedman and Sergachev pairing busts, Cooper can roll three reliable defensive pairings every night. For example, Hedman and Raddysh formed a solid pairing to end last season. That leaves a third pairing option of Sergachev and Perbix on the table. However, this is the ideal look with Hedman and Sergachev as the new top pairing in Tampa.

  1. Hedman – Sergachev
  2. McDonagh – Cernak
  3. Lilleberg/Perbix/Crozier – Raddysh

Main photo credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports


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